Prof Cathy Parker reports on the Institute of Place Management (Manchester Metropolitan University) visit to the National Research University Higher School of Economics (Moscow and St Petersburg).
One of the main aims of the Institute of Place Management is to develop an international community of academics, practitioners and policy makers that are interested in making, maintaining and marketing better places.
In the spirit of international collaboration, Fellow of the Institute of Place Management, Professor Kirill Rozhkov invited Professors Dominic Medway and Cathy Parker, Directors of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, to visit his institution, the Higher School of Economics, at both the St Petersburg and Moscow campuses. The main aim of the visit was to consider examples of place management practices from inside and outside Russia and examine the potential for mutual learning on both sides. The considerable political and economic changes cities and towns within the Russian Federation have experienced make it a rich source of insight into the principles and practices of place management and development.
In Moscow, Kirill had organised a Masterclass on Place Management Practices in Russia, with Russian experts presenting their experiences. This was a real insight into how cities, towns and districts are managed, developed and marketed, and was well attended by over 60 delegates.
The first case presented was ‘Attracting tourists to small Russian towns’ by Yuri Schegolkov, Vice-Dean of Faculty of International Tourism, Sport and Hotel Business at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, Moscow. Yuri’s description of small towns that had suffered industrial and population decline, and the corresponding loss of pride and identity sounded very familiar to the situation in many towns around Manchester and in the North. Yuri’s simple approach was to find “something worth saying” in each of the towns. And when he did, he used traditional marketing communications methods to broadcast this message of “true Russia”. His practical marketing solutions, which were all low-budget and successful in attracting both a flow of visitors and income from bigger and richer cities, like Moscow, were an inspiration to the audience. As one of the delegates explained, “Yuri is a hero in many of these towns”.
The next case was by Natalia Belyakova and was entitled “Place marketing through the hoteliers eyes”. Natalia is the Russian Regional Marketing and PR Director for the Domina Hotel Group. Natalia’s family-owned organisation uses its marketing insight and resources to help identify the unique aspects of the locations in which they have property (to create the product for the place). They then ensure that these characteristics are reflected in both the physical and social space within the hotels. For example, the design and décor of the hotels uses local colours and materials and the meeting and conference rooms in the hotels can be used, free of charge, by local community groups – meaning visitors and locals frequently interact in the hotel’s public areas ((to integrate the product in the place). Natalia’s story was a great example of how an important stakeholder in a location (a hotel) can do so much to strengthen the overall offer of a location, through acting congruently and collaboratively.
Up third was Ivan Mitin, Deputy Head of Department of Distant Areas, Moscow Agency for Area Development by Means of Culture, who shared his experiences of “Place Branding of Distant Moscow Areas”. Ivan is a cultural geographer who is tackling the problem of the lack of uniqueness and specificity associated with suburban districts of Moscow. As with the first presentation, we drew immediate parallels with Manchester. It is Ivan and his team’s job to help find the stories, objects or buildings that people can appreciate. The team then include these in a game, which is free to download. The game encourages people to explore areas and find out more about them. A very powerful example of how an academic sub-discipline (cultural geography) can be applied in a very practical way, to make a real difference to places.
Then we heard from Evgeny Nikonov Head of Exposition at the Museum of Brewing in Cheboksary, who talked about “Increasing footfall to a museum”. He presented a brief history of the development of the museum and explained how it was unique in both cultural and scientific terms. It is the only museum to preserve and exhibit traditional methods of beer production. The museum is run alongside a successful restaurant in Cheboksary and attracts visitors from across Russian, even the world. Like many other smaller museums in regional cities it is hard for the Museum of Brewing in Cheboksary to be known and to increase footfall, therefore Evgeny was looking for ideas from the audience. As we like beer in the IPM we happy to do what we can to help spread the word!
The next presentation was from Sonya Shkolnik, Special Projects Manager at the Department of Regional Development for the Arguments and Facts Publishing House in Moscow and it was on”Tour promotion in the print media”. As a mass-media group Arguments and Facts reaches a substantial percentage of the Russian population on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, many of the stories carried in their newspapers and magazines about smaller towns and cities from the regions propagate very negative stereotypes – of places that, at worst, have high levels of crime and traffic, and, at best are boring. Sonya’s approach, again similar to Ivan’s and Yuri’s, was to research each town in detail, including conducting round-table events with locals, to find out unusual or quirky ‘facts’ and then use the power of mass media to communicate these to a national audience, to change perceptions of these places.
The final presentation was from Alexey Chechulin Professor at the Department of Advertising and St Petersburg State University. Alexey’s presentation was entitled “Project <Perm is the capital of culture>” and it was a critical evaluation of a citywide place branding project. The project, masterminded by the then non-elected Governor, a famous designer, a local gallery owner and a theatre producer was organised by a Dutch consulting firm, with no input from local residents, and aimed to make Perm the capital of culture, not just in Russia – but across Europe. What could possible go wrong? 😉 Well a lot! The residents comprehensively rejected the brand and many of the associated ideas and innovations. They collectively protested against, and resisted the new image of Perm. Alexey identified that any place branding had to be “native and understandable by residents” and that through ignoring the local people the project was an abject failure.
In a short blog we can only give a small insight into the diverse range of place management practices that exist in Russia. Of course there are cultural differences, there is less citizen involvement in many of the projects that we learnt about, however this is a weakness that the delegates identified and is something they want to address. With our approach to inclusive and equitable place management and with the help of our international network of practitioners and academics we hope we can be useful. Perhaps even one day there may be a Russian Institute of Place Management, to support the important people that serve places locally.